TRANSCRIBER > J. Wmm SIMS
■ORAL -HISTORY; ■RESEARCH WfM :
MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES
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RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY
INTERVIEW WITH GERALD CAPERS
FEBRUARY 20, 1978
BY CHARLES W. CRAWFORD
TRANSCRIBER - J. DOUGLAS SIMS
ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE
MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE
I hereby release all right, title, or interest in
and to all of my tape-recorded memoirs to the Mississ-
ippi Valley Archives of the John Uillard Bristcr Li-
brary of Memphis State University and declare that thoy
may be used without any restriction whatsoever and may
be copyrighted and published by the said Archives, v?hich
also may assign eaid copyright and publication rights
to serious research scholars.
PLACE JiW aJL<a^ i ^ ; jjuXzjj^ fUuJJ,.
DATE ^ 3jLU±tt
^LJ^LusuiJ^. h \j&$ML&z
(For the Mississippi Valley Archives
of the John Uillard Bricter Library
of Memphis State University)
(OHRO FORM B)
THIS IS THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF MEMPHIS STATE
UNIVERSITY. THE PROJECT IS "TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY." THE
DATE IS FEBRUARY 20, 1978. THE PLACE IS MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE. THE
INTERVIEW IS WITH DR. GERALD CAPERS. THE INTERVIEW IS BY DR.
CHARLES W. CRAWFORD, DIRECTOR OF THE MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY ORAL
HISTORY OFFICE. TRANSCRIBED BY J. DOUGLAS SIMS. INTERVIEW I.
DR. CAPERS: His two favorite students were Abe Fortas, my dear
friend, and me. Both of us were agnostics. You
had to write papers in Bible class. You had to take Bible as a
freshman and Bible as a senior. Well, I wrote on the immortality
of the soul and Abe wrote about Joseph and the coat of many
colors. But, most of the professors I knew are dead. He was one
of the few left around — Peyton Rhodes. And I understand Johnson
is in a nursing home, somebody told me.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, I never met him.
DR. CAPERS: Well John Henry Davis, you knew him. He died this
year. Well I tell you. I had another history
professor named Marlar Raymond Cooper. He's been dead a long
time. He taught American History. But John taught English
History. And you know, he was the dullest guy in class but
outside of the class, he was the most stimulating guy. But I tell
you what. I took a course in History of the British Empire from
him. And you know what he did? He just read his notes that he
had on a course at the University of Chicago. He was a Rhodes
Scholar. A bunch of them were Rhodes Scholars. Cooper was,
Kelsoe was . . .
DR. CRAWFORD: Davis was, I believe.
DR. CAPERS: ...Davis was. Strickler. Strickler was my Greek
professor. But I haven't seen Abe since he
resigned from the Supreme Court. And I tell you what the answer
to that is. I used to stop and see him in Washington, because we
both taught at Yale and we both went to Southwestern. His wife's
a lawyer, daughter of an economics professor. Carol Eugenia
Aggerly is her maiden name. Rutgers or someplace They must make
between them about two hundred thousand bucks a year, see.
DR. CRAWFORD: I think he took a big loss to go on the U.S.
DR. CAPERS: Now what happened there, he made this deal with
this guy, which turned out to be a mistake. But he
was going to act as counsel for this fellow and if Abe died, he
was going to have to pay his wife for a number of years. And as
soon as Abe found out that this guy was a... well not exactly
crooked but, but a little shady, he got out of that deal. But the
Chief Justice made him get off the court because of it. See, his
wife must be above reproach. I wrote to him shortly thereafter
and said, "you can't win them all." I had him down about thirty
years ago to lecture at Tulane. And he wrote me back and said
that he was going to come down, but I haven't seen him. I tried
to call his office here several months ago and it was closed, so I
expect he's retired. They wouldn't let him back in his old firm.
But that's unfortunate because he's got the best mind of anybody
I've ever seen.
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, several people wrote that when he was
appointed to the Supreme Court. And apparently
Lyndon Johnson thought so because he really relied on him.
DR. CAPERS: Well it was Lyndon Johnson that give the kiss of
death to him. He was a close friend of Johnson's,
but the Republicans wouldn't let Fortas be approved. Well I
suppose he's, well, no. The Senate refused to confirm a couple of
judges since then. He was from South Side and I was from Central.
I was the valedictorian at Southwestern. I think he was next.
But that's just because I worked harder.
DR. CRAWFORD: What years were you at Southwestern?
DR. CAPERS: Twenty-six to thirty. [1926-1930] And I came here
in 1919. Now incidentally, I got to send you
this. I wrote, in Col. Bob Allen's Our Fair City , I wrote a thing
on Memphis. I called it the "Satrapy of a Benevolent Despot."
And, well, Crump didn't like it. But somebody said to me that it
was too strong for his friends and too weak for his enemies. But
what Crump did, see, he came here from Holly Springs and got into
a harness industry. And then got into politics. And he was a
progressive. He was a reformer mayor. And you probably knew all
DR. CRAWFORD: That was when he was elected in 1910?
DR. CAPERS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: He was a progressive then?
DR. CAPERS: All right. What he did, Tennessee passed a
prohibition law, but I think it was a local option.
And he opposed that, because the people of Memphis didn't want it,
see. Of course, they packed the ballot boxes all the time just
regularly. And then he got impeached, because he refused to
enforce this prohibition law. It wasn't local option, he just
didn't enforce it, see. Well that was about 1917, I believe. And
then he became County Commissioner. And of course he became a
millionaire from that real estate investment business. But he
stayed out of politics from 1917 to... as I told you on the phone.
Mayoral race in 1923 or 'twenty-four. And the Klu-Klux-Klan was
really strong here. And they ran this ticket.
DR. CRAWFORD: That would have been about the mid to early
DR. CAPERS: That's right. And Rowlett Paine was the candidate
that opposed him. I think, in that period, Crump
was County Commissioner. But what he did, he came out for Paine.
Actually, I'm sure the Klan won that election. But the only guy
they let in was Cliff Davis. And he openly joined the Crump
forces. But then, you know, later on, Davis was so popular and he
did a good job as judge. Well, he was City Judge and then he was
Fire and Police Commissioner. Crump wanted to get him out of
town. He sent him as Congressman to Washington.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was that how that happened?
DR. CAPERS: That's right. And brought, oh, I've forgotten the
guy now. But Crump's power in Tennessee... He
cleaned up the city so far as prostitution and stuff like that was
concerned. But the elections were crooked.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now he didn't clean up the prostitution until the
DR. CAPERS: That's right. But he could get, in a Tennessee
election... He and K.D. McKellar. What he'd do
is... They never counted the Shelby votes till last. And whatever
they needed to win, they'd get from Shelby, see? And that's the
way that worked. But something I was going to tell you, I was
just thinking about... Well, it'll come to me in a minute. Oh
yes, Cliff [Davis]. The last time I saw him he had come to New
Orleans there at the Roosevelt. But the way, all of the hotels
have changed names down there, now. They call it the Roosevelt
Sheraton or something like that now. And they tore down the St.
Charles and the Germany has become something else. We've got some
big new hotels in New Orleans now. Hilton Inn and stuff like
that. Of course, they've got the Superdome now.
DR. CRAWFORD: The Roosevelt is still there now, or isn't it the
Sheraton Roosevelt now?
DR. CAPERS: But Cliff knew my mother real well, see. And Cliff
couldn't drink bourbon. He drank... had to drink
gin. Well, I just had a couple of drinks and he had about ten.
So he said, "Let's call your mother." So we called her. She
said, "Cliff, please don't let Gerald get drunk." [Laughter]
That's the last time I... You know, he was head of this whatever
the committee was on rivers. They'd come down in the spring and
spend two weeks going down to New Orleans on the steamboat, play
poker, drink, and have a big time. He was always going to take me
on it, but he never got around to it. But he was a leading
Baptist. I was brought up in the Baptist Church, but ray
grandfather on the other side was an Episcopal Minister. He was a
leader in B.Y.P.U. [Baptist Young People's Union]
DR. CRAWFORD: He went to church — Sunday School every Sunday
and carried a white Bible.
DR. CAPERS: First Baptist. But I used to see him every now and
then in Washington. But you know who beat him? He
got licked. Oh, the guy that was in the Navy and...
DR. CRAWFORD: George Grider.
DR. CAPERS: George beat him. You know what they say about
Cliff? He was one of the six congressmen who got
shot by the Puerto Ricans when they tried to get Truman.
DR. CRAWFORD: Late forties, wasn't it? How did that happen?
DR. CAPERS: They just walked in there and fired away at them.
But Cliff happened to get in the way. Well I tell
you he was really getting too old. But he was an able guy. But
I'm trying to think of somebody else...
DR. CRAWFORD: What was the effect of his getting shot?
DR. CAPERS: Made him popular, that's all.
DR. CRAWFORD: It was not a serious wound, was it?
DR. CAPERS: No, he was not a hero. Probably got shot in the
butt or something like that.
DR. CRAWFORD: I think he really did. [Laughter]
DR. CAPERS: But the most influential people here, Crump's
right-hand man was Ed Rice?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, at least for a while. Or was it Frank
DR. CAPERS: Frank Rice.
DR. CRAWFORD: Frank Rice, yes.
DR. CAPERS: But there was somebody else.
DR. CRAWFORD: Francis Andrews, for a while. Will Gerber.
DR. CAPERS: Yes, Will Gerber. Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: They sort of changed positions now and then.
DR. CAPERS: Well, you know, Crump wasn't going to let anybody
get built up. But he wouldn't run for mayor again,
after he got impeached. But I tell you, I'll have to send you
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd like to have a copy of it.
DR. CAPERS: Because what I said about Crump, he was really a
city manager. And for no amount of money could you
have got as good a city manager as that. Because he paid
attention to Memphis.
DR. CRAWFORD: How efficient was he, Dr. Capers?
DR. CAPERS: Well, he protected Memphis. You see, Knoxville and
Chattanooga and Nashville could gang up on Memphis,
but he could protect them from that. Well, I don't know. Streets
were improved, [we] had, even then one of the best fire
departments in the United States. But when I came here in the
twenties, Memphis was the murder capitol of the United States
absolutely! But, no, he did a good thing for Memphis, but all I
said was that elections were really just plebiscites and that
Memphis was someday going to pay the price for that after Mr.
Crump was gone, because it's important to be able to elect pretty
good men. And if you get out of the habit of doing that, you see,
there's going to be a decline in the quality of the officials.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well it has happened after his death.
DR. CAPERS: Oh, I know that. I predicted that. I said they
were going to pay the price for it. Well, so did
Louisiana after Huey Long. Well look, besides Al, this, who's
the guy that writes for the Commercial? Colton or something like
DR. CRAWFORD: Paul Coppock.
DR. CAPERS: He knows a lot.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, he does. As a matter of fact, he's going
to join us for dinner about six fifteen, if that's
DR. CAPERS: Yes. As a matter of fact, I've been trying to get
him to... He ought to do a biography of Crump.
DR. CRAWFORD: He is one of the few people who could.
DR. CRAWFORD: He'll be introducing you tonight.
DR. CAPERS: Well say, Ricky wrote me... Sent me a copy of
something he wrote for the Egyptians that was
pretty good. Or maybe he gave it to me.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was it recently? I've only been a member a few
DR. CAPERS: No, this was four or five years ago. But it was
about Memphis politics.
DR. CRAWFORD: No, I did not hear about that one.
DR. CAPERS: He's very knowledgeable, [Al] Ricky is. But I'll
tell you about a funny thing that happened to him.
Now I was going to get in service. In fact, I was the second
person at Tulane to get in, but I was critical. I was
isolationist and the university is no place to be in wartime,
because you can't say what you want to. Well, I was just going to
enlist and go to OTS [Officer Training School] or something, OCS
[Officer Candidate School]. But I got a direct commission as a
second lieutenant and I spend three years in the Carribean. I
ended up a captain. But now Ricky had already gotten a law
degree, and they got him and you know what they did instead of
putting him in the Adjutant General Corps? Sent him to Maryland
and made a theoretical base out of him. Now what the hell is a
theoretical base? He ended up in the commissary department in the
Pacific. [Laughter] Well you know Jerry Dunsitute?
DR. CRAWFORD: I have met him. I don't really know him, sir.
DR. CAPERS: Well he and Ricky were both at Yale. In fact,
Arthur Halle Jr. and George Norris, he's dead now.
But there were a lot of boys I knew. As a matter of fact, I
started a club, more or less as a joke, called the Memphis in Yale
Club. And the head officer was the Colonel. Well I was the
Colonel. And the secretary was the Slave and Ricky was the
secretary. And I did it really more or less as a... Really, what
I wanted to do. Yale did a very important thing in the thirties
besides building these college dormitories. They started letting
boys from Denver and Atlanta and Spokane in without College
Boards. And they have them scholarships. Well of course, a lot
of the boys up there are rich boys, prep school boys, so I
figured if we could found this club, you had to be from
Mississippi, Tennessee, or Arkansas to belong. We did have a guy
from Oklahoma one time. Well, the charter of the club says, "The
purpose of this club is to preserve the culture of the old South
in the hostile atmosphere of the provincial East." [Laughter]
And we'd go down to the New Haven Green on the anniversary of the
Civil War battles that the Confederates had won and give the Rebel
Yell. But nobody knew the Rebel Yell, see? The big blow-out was
on Robert E. Lee's birthday. Boy, we had a banquet and
everything. But I was there eight years.
DR. CRAWFORD: You went on through graduate school there.
DR. CAPERS: Yes. And taught there, of course. In fact the
only reason I left there, I was coming back south.
One time I went back to Chicago with my brother and met a gal at
an office party. She was a Minnesota Swede. And married her the
third time I ever saw her. But I figured Yale was not the place
to take her. So I came home Christmas, and I heard about a job
from my professor down at New Orleans. But I just flew down there
and got a job. But that's how I came south anyway. But what
would have happened, if I hadn't gotten married, I'd have just
gone back in the service a little quicker. But I got in in
September of 'forty-two.
But you know what tickles me, every now and then I say
someting to my classes about the Depression or World War II.
Well, hell, they weren't even born then. They don't know a d
thing about it. I just forgot. [Laughter] But you know, I was
just thinking the other day. It's been thirty years since World
War II ended. We've had two more wars - Korean and Vietnam. But
my God, it's been forty-eight years since I taught at Fairview.
As a matter of fact, I've been teaching almost fifty years.
But you know how I learned to teach? In the Boy Scouts.
See, I used to have to teach trees, and birds, and snakes and
stars and stuff like that. And what you've got to do, I think, to
be a successful teacher is to be able to go over the elementary
points of your subject that may bore you but don't get too
abstruse and just do that. But I believe I learned more from the
Scouts than I did in school, maybe.
DR. CRAWFORD: I wouldn't doubt it. Now you were at Camp
Kai-Kima, Arkansas, a while weren't you?
DR. CAPERS: Yes. I went there six years on the staff, and then
I directed it from 'thirty, 'thirty-one, 'thirty-
two. But you know what they did? They sold it some years ago to
this guy from Hot Springs that's got the place up there. Rio
Vista? No. They sold it to Cherokee Village.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes.
DR. CAPERS: And the last time I was up there, I had to swim a
river to get up there to see it, five or six years
ago. But the Memphis camp has moved way up to SouthFork now. Way
up above the Jonesboro camp. Well, you said y'awl used to go to
Hardy, your family, huh?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir. As a matter of fact, we lived in the
river valley there further down the river. We were there before
Arkansas was a state or a territory so I know that country well.
DR. CAPERS: You know what I used to do, though? There's a YWCA
camp and a Girl Scout camp down the river.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was Mirimeechee the Girl Scout camp?
DR. CAPERS: No, Mirimeechee was the YWCA camp. Camp Kiwanis
was the Girl Scout camp. It's up on the hill and
the other's on the river. Well, Wahepton Hill was a famous place
where people from Memphis came, you see. Well I used to, every
night, walk three miles in and three miles back out. And you've
got to go over Cedar Ridge to get there. But my friend Tommy
Bronson has got a wonderful house up there on the Wahepton now.
Of course, I don't think they rent out cottages any more.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well it's quite a tradition for people from Memphis
to go up to Spring River. You know the Frisco Line
made it so convenient then.
DR. CAPERS: You know what used to happen then? Arkansas was
dry and Missouri was wet. And when we run out of
liquor, usually about Sunday morning, you had to drive all the way
up past Mammoth Springs to the first town in Missouri. Missouri
used to have the cheapest cigarettes and the cheapest liquor in
the nation because the taxes weren't very high.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was about Thayer, Missouri, I believe.
DR. CAPERS: Yes, Thayer. But you know, that road going up
there from Hardy, that used to be a hell of a road.
When it was gravel? They've long since paved it.
DR. CRAWFORD: It still has a lot of curves in it.
DR. CAPERS: Oh, yes. Well, going to Hardy, used to take you
about ten hours. At the bottom of ever hill was a
creek. You can make it in two and a half now.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well I remember after World War II, which I can
remember, it was still unpaved then.
DR. CAPERS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: Dr. Capers, what was it like...
DR. CAPERS: Jerry.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was it like in Crump's city in the twenties,
being a student? Do you remember how people felt
DR. CAPERS: Well, you see, my mother always fought Crump. I
think he was a little scared of her. But all the
vast majority of people in Memphis had great admiration for Mr.
Crump. There was a minority. Now his big enemy was the City
Editor of the Commercial Appeal .
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember now who?
DR. CAPERS: No, he's dead now.
DR. CRAWFORD: Meeman?
DR. CAPERS: No, but this guy, if you want to find out something
about a town, talk to a city editor. They have to
know more than anybody. But this was Crump's mortal enemy, see.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well I believe that... Need some matches?
DR. CAPERS: Yes, I've got some. No, I've got wooden matches.
I've been using paper. You know, for a pipe-
smoker, d little paper matches burn your hand before you can
get the pipe lit.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, I've noticed. I'm a pipe-smoker...
DR. CAPERS: But finally got these today. You know what I've
got at home? Kitchen matches. I keep a box of
kitchen matches in my living room and one in my kitchen. 'Cause
they're big enough. Well look, how long have you been out at
MS. HUTTON: It seems like forever. I've been there full time
since 1971 in every capacity imaginable.
DR. CAPERS: Are you married?
MS. HUTTON: I used to be. I married a New Orleans boy.
DR. CAPERS: Were you a [Sophie] Newcomb?
MS. HUTTON: Yes. So did my sister, but she stayed married.
DR. CRAWFORD: And stayed in New Orleans.
MS. HUTTON: Yes. Intelligent girl.
DR. CAPERS: Well my first wife was a Minnesota Swede. A very
beautiful girl, very good cook, but the most
jealous thing I ever saw in my life. Now the whole time we were
married, ten years, I never went with another woman. And every
month I was supposed to be sleeping with some woman and she would
decide that was a mistake. But once she finally accused me of a
student is why I finally got a divorce. Then about four years
later I married a Louisiana Cajun who loved to fish. She had a
little step-daughter. And by George, she'd get drunk. She run me
out of the house about twenty times with a shotgun. So I finally
took about all of that I could stand. My third wife was head of
the art school down there. And she was a New York Quaker. But
she's in about three feet of snow now, because she's got a place
in the Berkshires, just out of Albany. Well she wanted me to
leave New Orleans and go back to Yale or some place. Well I
wasn't about to leave New Orleans.
DR. CRAWFORD: You'd be in about three feet of snow now.
DR. CAPERS: Sure would. But hunting and fishing both salt and
fresh are so good in New Orleans. I probably would
have left but for that. But I wouldn't have gone back up there.
Well she retired before I did. She was five years older and I
think it was the spring of '70 or '71 she was going up in April to
plant a garden. She's got a lot of land and a two-story house and
an old red barn. And by gosh, if she didn't write me and say, "I
don't want to live in New Orleans any more. I'm not coming back."
And I tried to talk her out of getting a divorce, but I didn't
MS. HUTTON: Where do you live in New Orleans?
DR. CAPERS: Near the Huey Long Bridge off of Central Avenue.
I've had a house right there for about twenty
years. And people say, "Why don't you sell it and get an
apartment?" Well I've got a yard and a house and before she went
back she stole six thousand dollars from me in two years. I used
to entertain. And I've got a garage full of fishing tackle and
everything else. I'd go crazy in an apartment.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well now you're free to travel and fish and hunt,
DR. CAPERS: Yes. In fact, if it weren't so cold up here now,
I'd go fishing now but I don't fish around here
after Thanksgiving, usually. But I usually head for Arkansas.
But I tell you, a good place to go fishing is Tunica Cutoff down
in Mississippi. It's an old river cut-off. It's a humding
DR. CRAWFORD: What do you fish for there?
DR. CAPERS: Bass and Crappie and Brim.
DR. CRAWFORD: You mentioned the White River in Arkansas which is
good for that, particularly on the upper reaches.
DR. CAPERS: I never did have much luck at Horseshoe, but I
usually go to East Lake and get a cabin. It's just
out in Clarendon. Holly Springs. Or is it Holly Grove? Holly
Grove. You know what I didn't know? I was reading and did you
know that they've got a University for Holiday Inns down here at
Olive Branch? They've got lakes and golf courses and everything
else. I didn't know about that.
DR. CRAWFORD: I've never seen it, but I know of it. I know it's
DR. CAPERS: Well I was telling somebody today, I taught summer
school at Old Miss in 'thirty-eight and I haven't
been back to Oxford since then. It used to be a hell of a getting
there, from here to there. Gravel roads. I owned about four or
five Model T's and three or four Model A's, but if people are
going to go any distance, if you're goin to go from here to New
Orleans, you put wood in your car in case you had to camp out at
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, that's improved. I was at Old Miss for three
years and you can drive down there now in an hour
and a half.
DR. CAPERS: Sure. Take 55 across from Batesville.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes. An hour and a half easily.
DR. CAPERS: Well, whereabouts do you live in Memphis? Do you
live at Memphis State?
DR. CRAWFORD: No sir, in the east part of town. As a matter of
fact, it would not have been in Memphis when you
were here, because it's past the expressway, 240?
DR. CAPERS: What, near Gerraantown?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, just inside Memphis from Germantown.
DR. CAPERS: Well you know, I didn't have your letter and there
are two or three Charles Crawfords and I called
somebody on Cherokee, I think, see.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, it's a problem. I should have given you the
home number. There are several here. I didn't
think of that. I was trying to reach you, not Saturday, because
I was in Nashville, but Sunday, to see if you had checked in, but
you had not arrived yet.
DR. CAPERS: You know, Nashville has had a hell of a winter.
MS. HUTTON: They had a lot of snow. He's been up there.
DR. CRAWFORD: I was up there Saturday.
DR. CAPERS: For a meeting?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir. I'm on the Tennessee Historical
Commission and we had a meeting for that purpose.
DR. CAPERS: Well I haven't been to Vanderbilt in a long time
but. . .
DR. CRAWFORD: It has changed very little except for some new
dormitories. I was there Saturday.
DR. CAPERS: Well look, is the Tennessee Historical Commission
DR. CRAWFORD: We have an annual budget of a little more than a
half a million dollars, which is not a great deal
for a state, but it's enough to get publications, you know, pay
for books, journals, keep the historical marker program, and give
grants to sites. That's what we manage to do with it, mostly.
DR. CAPERS: Well, look. I knew Enoch Mitchell. Is the History
Department at Memphis State pretty large, now?
DR. CRAWFORD: Twenty-six or -seven I believe now. Does that
sound about the right number? I seldom count them,
but I believe twenty-six or -seven.
DR. CAPERS: That's more than we have at Tulane. We're not as
big a school as you.
DR. CRAWFORD: That's true.
DR. CAPERS: Our undergraduate body I don't suppose is more...
Well, it goes up every year. So does tuition.
They're going to go up four hundred dollars more... And you know
what Southwestern is?
MS. HUTTON: They've just gone up.
DR. CAPERS: Thirty-one hundred!
MS. HUTTON: No. They've just gone up. They're going to be
thirty-four hundred fifty dollars or something next
DR. CRAWFORD: And with boarding it costs five thousand plus.
They have gone up.
DR. CAPERS: Well now you know the best thing that ever happened
to Southwestern was Memphis State because a lot of
people that can't afford to go to Southwestern, they have to give
too many scholarships. Now the same thing is happening in New
Orleans. University of New Orleans out on Lakefront is a pretty
d good school. But if I wasn't a professor I wouldn't send
anybody to Tulane. I'd send them out there. They have more of a
turnover on their faculty than we do. Do y'awl have much
DR. CRAWFORD: No. People there can't get another job.
DR. CAPERS: Well not now, I know.
DR. CRAWFORD: There is comparatively little turnover. Most of
our people aren't very well-known nationally for
one thing, and then you know how the job market is for history.
DR. CAPERS: Well I had a good friend from Memphis. He got his
Ph.D. and he's teaching at Lehigh now. He taught
at Memphis State. And he organized an AAUP out there and d if
the administration didn't fire him.
DR. CRAWFORD: Let's see. Which one was that, sir?
DR. CAPERS: John Ellis.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes. Is John at Lehigh now?
DR. CAPERS: Yes. He went from here to some place in Kentucky.
DR. CRAWFORD: A Baptist school, I believe.
DR. CAPERS: Yes, and to Lehigh. Well now he was at the
Southern. Did you go to there?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, and I saw him. I did not get to see you
there. I meant to ask you about this program. But
I did not get to see John. I got to speak to him briefly there.
DR. CAPERS: Well, I invited about ten of ray ex-students out to
my house and he couldn't come because he had eaten
some oysters or something that upset him. But nobody showed up
except a girl who got her masters under me. A real pretty girl.
She's married to a boy at Auburn. So after I had made
preparations and taken care to I'd get there in time and bought
liquor and everything else, instead of twelve people coming out,
two did. Well, of course, at a meeting you have to expect those
things. Anyway, about half of them were in the French Quarter.
DR. CRAWFORD: Last year some of our students got over to the
DR. CAPERS: You know, I never go over to the French Quarter
unless I have visitors in town.
MS. HUTTON: Nobody does who lives there. It's purely
DR. CAPERS: Well when I was younger, when we'd have a party at
night, we'd probably end up at the quarter. But
these Memphis people, you see, they're really titilated by it.
Strip-teases and things like that, you see. Well how big is
Memphis State now? Ten thousand?
DR. CRAWFORD: No sir, I'll have to admit, it's about twenty-one
thousand now, I believe.
DR. CAPERS: Good God!
DR. CRAWFORD: And each student seems to have a car and a half,
or something like that.
DR. CAPERS: Ours do too. You can't park within four blocks of
Tulane. And you know what gets me about students?
They'll spend fifteen minutes driving around so that they can get
one block closer. Now I'll park four blocks out and walk. I just
don't worry about that. But with the decline in the birthrate,
there's going to be a drop in enrollment for the colleges.
MS. HUTTON: There already has been.
DR. CAPERS: It's going to be serious for the colleges. That's
why more and more now, they have to raise tuition.
DR. CRAWFORD: We have trouble placing our graduate students,
finding work for them. I know you have the same
problem down there. Our best students usually get work and
Marilyn is going to get a job, but we don't know where yet.
DR. CAPERS: Where do you want to go?
MS. HUTTON: Anywhere that will pay me.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know a place where they will pay salaries?
DR. CAPERS: There might be a job in Newcomb sometime. She's
got a Ph.D. there. Sylvia Pryor from Louisiana.
I think we've got one other girl on the faculty. We don't have
any Negroes and I don't understand how we can get by under this
new education act.
MS. HUTTON: I was just wondering that.
DR. CRAWFORD: Of course, being a private institution made it
easier, I'm sure.
DR. CAPERS: But they still could deny your grants. Well
inflation has hurt a lot. And I'll tell you
something else that really hurt, too. Minimum wage. That made
your wages go way up for your help. And something else. Just
raising the sewage and water rates twenty-five percent in New
Orleans, see. Twenty-five percent. Tulane's a poor school. It's
the poorest private institution in the South. You know how much
of an endowment? We've been running in a deficit. Well, what
burns me about it, and I was a football player and an athlete, we
used a half a million dollars on our football team and pay the
lowest salaries, lower than Vanderbilt, lower than Emory, lower
than Duke and comparable schools. But the basketball team, I
don't think they won but three games out of ten. Oh, some of them
were close. But what's going to be a hot tournament, March the
second and third. That Metro idea was a good one. A small enough
conference, but it will be a knock-down drag-out between Memphis
State and Florida State or maybe Cincinatti.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, we'll be watching it.
DR. CAPERS: Well, I used to go to basketball games. In some
ways it's the best sport to watch because it's so
fast. And most games are close, by and large, but I think I'd
really rather see baseball than anything else. We don't have a
baseball team any more, but we're probably going to get one, with
the Superdome down there. Have you ever been in it?
DR. CRAWFORD: Well I have seen the outside.
DR. CAPERS: When you get inside, it's three times bigger than
the outside. You know they play football in it.
Trying to get a pro football team, too. They're trying to get it
here in Memphis, I read in the paper.
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd say New Orleans is a lot more likely than
Memphis to get one.
MS. HUTTON: Well they've got what pretends to be a pro football
DR. CAPERS: Is it the coliseum they play in in Memphis? I
never have been.
MS. HUTTON: It's a real nice place. It's not nearly as nice as
the Superdome. We have the Coliseum, which is the
enclosed structure, and then the Memorial Stadium, which, I don't
know why the call it the Memorial Stadium.
DR. CAPERS: Well listen, they used to play football games at
Crump Stadium at Central High, named after him.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember seeing Mr. Crump there?
DR. CAPERS: Yes. He lived right down at the end of — my
mother had a place on Peabody. He lived down there
by Rembert and Peabody. Not a very sumptuous house.
DR. CRAWFORD: And it's still there?
DR. CAPERS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was it like at the football games when he
DR. CAPERS: Oh, he was a firm advocate. But you know what? He
loved birds, and at the end of his life, he started
a war on cats. [Laughter]
DR. CRAWFORD: What happened?
DR. CAPERS: Well I'll tell you what happened to him. One of
his sons got killed in an airplane crash.
DR. CRAWFORD: John, I believe it was.
DR. CAPERS: And I think that upset the old man. Well, Mrs.
Randall drove me. I've been across the new bridge
but she drove me up to town and showed me the mall and we went up
to the Everett Cook Auditorium. I was amazed. That's a pretty big
place. They added to the auditorium and everything. But they
don't have enough hotels there. Is it the Peabody? I thought it
went bankrupt. Claridge is gone, Chisca is gone, Gayoso is gone.
DR. CRAWFORD: Downtown is really suffering a decline.
DR. CAPERS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now they're re-opening the Peabody day-after-
tomorrow for a special event. Mrs. Lyndon Johnson
is coming and we're having a lunch down there. But it's just for
special things like that unless the owners make quite a change.
DR. CAPERS: Well look, somebody told me, isn't there a Howard
Johnson downtown that's pretty big, or is there?
DR. CRAWFORD: No, I believe not now.
DR. CAPERS: Well what people could do...
DR. CRAWFORD: There's a Holiday Inn.
DR. CAPERS: There are enough Holiday Inns to stay in but if the
hotel could be right down there where the meeting
was it would be a lot easier for transportation.
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd like to see that. I'd like to see the downtown
DR. CAPERS: Now New Orleans suffered some on Canal Street, but
not that bad. But I think a lot of cities have
some problems because people move out to the suburbs and you've
got shopping centers and everything. Why go downtown? There was
a day when you had to go downtown to go to a bank and then banks
started moving out.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now they're all over town — everywhere. Where
were the city limits when you were here?
DR. CAPERS: Just a half a mile from Parkway. At the overpass
on Poplar, the first railroad overpass, that's
where they were. Right there. And I'll tell you something about
Memphis. The reason why it moved east. For a long long time
nobody would move south of Nonconnah Creek or north of the Wolf
River. It should have expanded that way, but they just went
straight out east.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now I have wondered why. Do you know if Mr. Crump
had anything to do with the real estate movement?
DR. CAPERS: I always suspected because he was in that business,
DR. CRAWFORD: I have heard that he blocked movement north by
preventing the bridging of the Wolf River and
preventing the development of the streets to the south also, but I
don't know that.
DR. CAPERS: Well now, people did live in Whitehaven.
DR. CRAWFORD: Mr. Hale was down there, you know.
DR. CAPERS: Yes. Which is still in the city limits now. And
then they've got what, Southaven that's in
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes.
DR. CAPERS: Well we had a scout camp down in Eudora,
Mississippi. That's about five miles west of
Hernando. Somebody gave us a square mile of virgin timber, and my
troop built the first log cabin down there. They've torn it down
since then, see. Troop 19« But we finally got a lake on the
place by damming up a valley. That was wonderful. We'd just go
there for weekends. Then we'd go to Hardy in the summertime.
DR. CRAWFORD: I have camped at both of them.
DR. CAPERS: Have you?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes. I can't remember what it's called, though.
Is it Currier, Camp Currier?
DR. CAPERS: Camp Currier. That's what it is. Like Currier
and Ives. The lady that gave it to us was Mrs.
Currier. But it was virgin timber. And I tell you how they did
that log cabin. They cut, it was hickory and ash and oak and left
it out for about two years. Boy, you had to nail that thing with
a sledge hammer. And then half the time you couldn't. And what
you did, bark was on one side and you would have to cut it with a
cross-cut saw and fit the corners, see. We built a loft in it to
double the floor space. The loft was rough lumber and there were
cracks in it and guys up there could drop nails on the boys below,
see. But we got some little cotton mattresses and when there were
a bunch of them down there, you had to sleep three guys on two
mattresses. Of course, the youngest always got the crack. But
how did you happen to go to Eudora? Were you in the scouts?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir.
DR. CAPERS: What troop?
DR. CRAWFORD: The new troops, troops 64 and 364. I worked with
them here. Now I was a Boy Scout, but in Arkansas.
I worked with the Boy Scouts here in Memphis.
DR. CAPERS: Well let me tell you something funny about that.
Camp Kai-Kima was just for Memphis camp. But
occasionally, well, we let one boy in from Arkansas one time and
we let three guys in from Greenville, Mississippi. Donald
Weatherby, Shelby Foote, the novelist, and a guy named Benny
McGee. Well, I spent, in October, I spent about a half a day with
Shelby. By the way, they're raving about his book he wrote. He
said he wished he'd never started it. He spent twelve years
writing three volumes on the Civil War -- a narrative. And he
takes it day by day.
Now I'm not much of a Civil War guy. People think I am, but
I'm not. Well, he was just twelve, and they had a quiet hour
right after lunch. And they were supposed to sleep or rest or
write letters, but they're not supposed to talk. And I caught old
Shelby singing a new verse to Casey Jones. And here's what the
verse was. He said, "Casey Jones was a dude you know. He drove
his wagon through the whorehouse door." And that's how I know he
was a genius. [Laughter] Well you know he wrote four or five
novels before he did his last one. And he's just written a
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, I think it's doing well. It was favorably
reviewed at any rate. I can't remember what it's
called, but it's set in Memphis in the 1950's.
DR. CAPERS: But he's got a house out there on Parkway, you
know. I don't know how long. I haven't seen
Shelby for four or five years. But he, for a while, he had a big
beard. He doesn't have one any more. But you know they almost
ran him out of Memphis when he first... the novels he wrote, so
sympathetic to Negroes. Oh boy, the American Legion and other
people got angry.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, people in Oxford didn't like Faulkner's
novels and there were a few complaints about your
writing about Memphis, too, I remember.
DR. CAPERS: Oh yes, sure. Well you know I never did meet
Faulkner. But I am president of the chapter of Phi
Beta Kappa and we have an initiation banquet and have a lecture
and everything. And I got a friend of mine. I think he's died.
He went to Ole Miss. Jim Silver. They almost ran him out of
town. But he finally left and went to Notre Dame. He like to
froze himself to death and then he went to MIT and then they paid
him big money to come down to the University of, I think it was,
West Florida or something. But he had me down there to lecture
and I got him up to lecture. He knew Faulkner real well.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was how I met Faulker. He was my professor at
DR. CAPERS: Well I tell you, Jim always had skin trouble. He
didn't come to the Southern. He usually does. But
he fell and broke his hip. And I've been meaning, I think, well,
he'd be retired because he's a couple of years older than I am.
But he was a d good teacher.
DR. CRAWFORD: He certainly was. I learned a lot from him.
DR. CAPERS: He's a good poker player too.
DR. CRAWFORD: I've heard that.
DR. CAPERS: But I wrote him and asked him if he was coming to
the Southern and I should have called Dutch and
found out. I think I talked to her about three or four months ago
and he was in the hospital. But I tell you what they were doing.
They had an agreement that he could teach until he was seventy and
they were trying to run out on that so I think he was fighting the
powers that be. Something else I was going to tell you. Well you
mentioned Hale a while ago. Now he was a guy that was real close
DR. CRAWFORD: He was the political boss of Whitehaven, wasn't he?
E. W. Hale, I believe it was.
DR. CAPERS: Well see, ray mother lived to be ninety-eight. She
died in '73« Daddy died when he was sixty-six. He
was a printer for The Commercial Appeal . But my sisters tell me a
wonderful story. Mother had political meetings in the side yard
when we had this house on Union and Cox, had a big side yard.
There was a judge and a congressman there one time, and she heard
the judge ask the congressman, "Why the h did you come to
this?" and the guy said, "H , I was scared not to." [Laughter]
DR. CRAWFORD: What were her relations with Mr. Crump?
DR. CAPERS: Oh boy, she fought him tooth and nail. But he was
a good friend of hers. I mean, he liked her. Of
course, it didn't make any difference. As a matter of fact, when
he died, his power was still undiminished.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well who managed it after he was gone? Who
operated the machine?
DR. CAPERS: Well how is your mayor now, any good?
DR. CRAWFORD: He works hard. I don't think he's very effective,
but then no one has been since Mr. Crump left. And
you know now we have two mayors, a county mayor and a city mayor.
DR. CAPERS: Yes. Oh, now Ricky had presented some big plan
about them getting together there and they turned
DR. CRAWFORD: A merger of the city and county?
DR. CAPERS: That's right.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was it called? Program for Progress,
something like that? They were trying to
consolidate and it did not work. But they'll try again.
DR. CAPERS: Well look, you holler when we've got to go because
all I've got to do is put on my coat.
MS. HUTTON: The city supported it and the county didn't.
DR. CRAWFORD: That's right. The city supported it and the
county didn't. Let's see. We should be leaving in
a few minutes I guess to meet Paul Coppock.
DR. CAPERS: You know, I've never met him. I've talked to him
on the phone. He had a good review, my sister sent
me a copy, of sort of the whole historiography of the history of
Memphis. I think it was in the Sunday paper. But didn't he write
a column or something?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, every Sunday.
DR. CAPERS: And I ask him, "Look. Why don't you..." And a
friend of mine had a column called Ray Millard and
he took some of his best pieces and published it in a book. He
calls it, oh, Exotic Beyonds . Some other name, but I liked to
have laughed myself to death. I said, "Lydel, why don't you
collect some of the stuff you've written and put it out?" He said
he throws the stuff he writes away. That's amazing to me. Maybe
he doesn't want to repeat himself.
DR. CRAWFORD: I don't know.
DR. CAPERS: But he's just got a marvelous sense of humor.
DR. CRAWFORD: He really has.
DR. CAPERS: Yes, I read it every time I get here. I borrowed
a canoe. My last wife and I took it down the
Buffalo River in Arkansas. It runs into the White. And you get
into the Buffalo, you can't get out for two days. Well they'd
already fished it out. It was too late in the year. But he'd
bought the canoe from Tommy. I burnt my canoe up a long time ago
and haven't had one since. Well, I had a Pirogue which I used for
duck hunting, but when they stopped me from duck hunting I gave it
to the boy next door. The only time I ever turned over, I never
turned over unless I did it deliberately.
DR. CRAWFORD: That's remarkable. I thought practically everyone
turned over in a canoe.
DR. CAPERS: I was the only person, you know, that between camp
and where it goes into the Spring, Rio Vista, there
are four rapids. And I was the only guy on the staff that could
shoot it in the dark. And the way I learned how to shoot that,
normally a canoe is going to go where the current is, but you
listen to the murmur of the water. That's how you tell where to
DR. CRAWFORD: I'm glad to hear that. I always look for the
smooth water between the rough water and I turn
DR. CAPERS: Well now I'll tell you what we did do. We used to
do it deliberately. And you can do this, it's a
funny thing to do. At camp we had the mail detail every day.
Well boys liked that because they got to go to town. They had to
walk in and get the mail, but they would buy a banana split you
called a Johnson Special, but they would get dressed up. Well you
can be in a canoe with three other guys and make the canoe turn
over and blame it on them and they will apologize for it, see.
They used to get these boys dressed up and you've got to go across
the camp river, you see. You couldn't get there by roads unless
you could go to the rapids way down. And when they'd be all
dressed up, every now and then we'd just turn them over.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was Camp Kai-Kima at Hardy?
DR. CAPERS: Oh, by the way, have you met Alvin Tate here at the
DR. CRAWFORD: I have, but I have not talked with him.
DR. CAPERS: Well he was ray executive officer. And there was a
boy named Fritz Schultz, all Memphis Center from
Southside. He committed suicide during the war. Well, we go down
to this Girl Scout Camp, and you take a canoe and go down, but the
rapids are right above that YWCA camp, you see. And of course,
down below you'd have to wade back up. But if you cross the river
and went down, there was a field with a lot of tall grass in it.
And one night they had some kind of show there at the YW camp.
What we did, every Friday night one of the three camps would have
a show. They would just take turns. And Tate was the guy in
charge of that. But we took six canoes. And we used to get
dressed up in golf knickers, see. Took six canoes down there and
you had to walk about a block from where you left the canoes down
to the YW camp. Well somebody decided to leave and I decided to
leave. And he took a canoe and I took four other canoes. Put
them on a line and paddled up to camp and left them. Eight poor
bastards down there with one canoe. Meanwhile it had rained, see.
[Laughter] Five of them tried to go in the canoe, and of course,
they turned over. The other three walked through the field and
got wet from all the bushes. Well, I got there. They knew I had
done it. And I was in my lodge and Alvin Tate and this guy
Schultz snuck up there and they had it prearranged. They got two
buckets of water and the guy across the river yelled "BOAT!" When
you've got to cross the river, you yell "BOAT!" Boy, they threw
water all over me.
Well I got up and poured water in their bunks. Because they
ran. And then I decided, boy, they're going to be after me. So
we had a Negro cook named Ike Baskins, and he cooked for
Southwestern too. THe cook's lodge was right by the mess hall. I
went down there and I said, "Ike, you'd better let me sleep here
tonight." Well the first thing you know, I hear a big roar.
Schultz and Tate saying, "Where is that little bastard?"
I got up early the next morning and I went up there and I
said, "Did you ever find the guys that poured water in our bunks?"
They said, "H , you did it." I said, "You don't think I'd pour
water in my own bunk, do you?" [Laughter] Well, there was
something like that always going on at camp, see. Always.
In fact, we had a reunion here a couple of years ago at the
Summit Club. Oh, it must have been three hundred people from
Kai-kima, see. I saw people I hadn't seen in forty years.
DR. CRAWFORD: Who arranged that, Alvin Tate?
DR. CAPERS: Alvin and Charlotte Standage Bird. She married...
George's older brother was a Memphis man. He lived
on Belvedere. Now it was a real nice party. But I tell you what
they did. Of all the fool things to do. Of course, people
mingled around and had drinks. But they ate and then they had
Norman Van Powell, who's dead now, but he was an architect and...
DR. CRAWFORD: A painter.
DR. CAPERS: Painted naval ships that he got five hundred bucks
for. But he was one of the funniest guys when he
was young. He's older now. You know, they let him talk for an
hour and a half? I told Tate, I've never seen anything as dumb
as that in my life. Because, you know, my brother came up from
Chattanooga with his wife and he was bored. They should have let
them sing camp songs and stuff like that.
I'll tell you two things. The best song we had at camp, it
was a wonderful song, went: [Singing] "Once I went swimming
where there were no women and no one could see. Bathing suits
were loathing so I hung my clothing underneath the tree. Then I
hit the water there like Pharoah's daughters swiming down the
Nile. A tramp he saw me there and swiped my underwear and left me
with a smile." Well now Tate could have directed all that, but
instead people sat around the table there and Powell went on for
one hour and a half.
DR. CRAWFORD: I think I have seen some pictures of that meeting.
DR. CAPERS: Well I told Alvin he ought to do it again, see.
Because there are some people there who somehow or
another didn't get invited. But I mean to tell you they really
showed up. But the other funny thing I meant to tell you. I've
been laughing at this for three weeks. There was an article in
Newsweek about Lyndon Johnson and about President Carter. Well,
one of his aides said that Carter was like a country dog that
comes to the city. Said if he would stand still he would get
screwed and if he runs he would get bitten in the ass.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was that Newsweek ?
DR. CAPERS: Yes. I read that regularly. It's a good
DR. CRAWFORD: I'll have to subscribe again. I was just noticing,
Jerry, we probably should let you get ready.
[End of interview]
H EC KM AN
es* SEPT 88